Points of Pride

It's Never Too Late to Change Careers

Posted on Tue, Oct 07, 2008

By Joyce Clifford Burland, PhD (PSY ’88)

I am lucky to have led a double life: one as a practicing psychotherapist and then another as author and trainer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ (NAMI) peer education programs. In the past eight years at NAMI, I have written several educational programs for family caregivers and behavioral health providers. The Joyce Burlandprograms utilize trained family members and people with mental illness as peer teachers and are offered free in their home communities. The center I direct now oversees nine training programs, numerous community support groups, and 10,000 volunteer teachers across the country.

I began my career in politics, but after a devastating election loss, my career was over at age 44. With a forced career change looming, I decided to pursue my other interest: psychology. Thanks to a Fielding Graduate University faculty member who encouraged me to apply, I was able to complete the coursework to obtain my doctorate.


My daughter has had schizophrenia for 25 years. I am grateful to my husband of 35 years, and my two sons and their wives, who long ago formed a family support group to help her recover. Fielding helped me leave politics to serve families with mental illness, including my own, and offered me the chance to find my way without the restriction of traditional programs as I cared for my daughter. The intellectual freedom and superb training at Fielding supported my life change and it never occurred to me not to finish, though I was sorely tried by my daughter’s need for care.


Fielding taught me that learning is a lifelong process. I remember the moment that I realized there was nothing I couldn’t take on or learn on my own if I truly wanted to. One night, in my previous life as a politician, I dreamed I was hosting an election victory dinner. In the midst of glad-handing, I suddenly noticed there was no food on the tables—no real sustenance. That dream was leading me to my current life in service, and Fielding opened the door.

Tags: psychology, adult learning, clinical psychology, mental illness